8:50pm PT by Lexy Perez, Trilby Beresford
NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace Jr. Talks Noose Incident, Creating Change in Sporting Community
NASCAR driver Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. made his first late-night appearance on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah Wednesday night, where he opened up about the support he's received after a noose was found in his garage at an Alabama racetrack.
Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native who is the only full-time Black driver in NASCAR's elite Cup Series, made headlines last week after a noose was found in his garage stall at the NASCAR race in Alabama on Sunday. The incident occurred less than two weeks after Wallace successfully pushed the auto racing series to ban the Confederate flag at its tracks and facilities.
"Ever since being vocal in being a human being, I've been proud to kind of step away from Bubba Wallace the athlete and to step up as Bubba Wallace the human and not be so, 'I don't know If I can touch that'; 'I don't know if I can say these types of things.' I'm letting that guard down," Wallace told Noah of deciding to speak out about the Confederate flag's presence in NASCAR.
"With me doing this, they have to know the bigger picture of everything. It's not about racing. It's about race," he said. "So ever since having that voice and being vocal about it and coming out and standing my ground, to helping NASCAR paint a new picture for sport and for the next generation to see and latch onto...I knew, 'All right, roll the sleeves up, it's going to be tough.'" He went on to explain there was a lot of attention around the race at Talladega Superspeedway, coming after the Confederate flag ban and him speaking out.
Wallace recalled the moment he received the phone call that an incident had occurred, admitting he first had fears that something had happened to his family. "I was relieved that it wasn't my family but I was emotional," he explained of the moment he learned a noose had been found.
Prior to making a statement regarding the noose, Wallace admitted he had fears that he would receive public scrutiny that it was a hoax and would be compared to what happened to Empire actor Jussie Smollett. "My crew member checked each and every garage around us. Not one of them had anything close to resembling what we had," he said, adding that he was relieved to learn later that the rope had been there earlier and that it was not directed toward him. "It was there; it had been there, so when they found that evidence, it was good. My family wasn't targeted. I wasn't targeted."
NASCAR had launched an immediate investigation after the noose was discovered, initially describing it as a "heinous act" and assuring that they would do everything possible to find who was responsible because "there is no place for racism in NASCAR." The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Justice Department found no federal crime in the placement of the noose and that a rope — fashioned like a noose — had been there since before Wallace was assigned to that particular garage stall.
Wallace also reflected on the touching moment he had as NASCAR drivers helped push his car down the finish line to showcase solidarity and unity.
"That was powerful. From the moment I was being pushed down the lane...there I was bawling, gathered my thoughts, turned around and seen all the drivers there, started bawling again. It shows that we can let down that side and be human beings and show love and compassion for our fellow competitors, our fellow brothers and sisters to come together as one," he told Noah.
Later in the conversation, Noah touched on the idea that some fans believe Wallace brought racial politics into NASCAR or played the "race card," which he explained he has never done. "I am looked at as an African American guy because of the color of my skin," Wallace told Noah. "I am darker. I am not white. I am not Black. I am mixed, and it's something that I've never once tried to bring in. I've always tried to bring in the competitive nature: 'Don't mess with me, I won't mess with you.' Let's race our hearts out. That's it."
He continued, "And now, having a voice, having a platform, being vocal, standing up for what I believe is right, standing up for a race that feels defeated, that is afraid to speak out because they don't know what's going to happen — I don't want to see my people go down like that." Wallace went on to say that, moving forward, he wants to use his voice to create change in his sport and his community.
After the death of George Floyd, protests against police brutality and systemic racism and discussions about those issues have occurred around the world.
Watch Wallace's conversation with Noah below.